Why you should care
There’s a better way to get kitty from Point A to Point B.
The thing my cat Smitten loves more than anything else is being told how beautiful he is. The thing he hates more than anything else is going outside. But all cats must eventually go outside, especially when they eat things they’re not supposed to and must travel back and forth to the vet several times to stave off medical disaster.
This is where the problems arose: Smitten’s Paris-based vet is within easy walking distance, but it also means he had to be carried 15 minutes each way in his serviceable cat carrier. And being a Parisian cat who loves eating, Smitten weighs about 17 pounds, which means carrying him is like carrying about six MacBook Airs if MacBook Airs were really angry about you taking them outside.
Enter the backpack. Thinking about this dilemma — “What could I carry six MacBook Airs in that would still have breathing holes?” — I ordered a cat backpack, designed particularly for carrying animals. There are a few models, including some like “The Fat Cat” created specifically for very large cats, but mine is from U-Pet ($135) because it made the cat look the most like he was in a space capsule and it came in a pleasing shade of bright yellow. No minimalist beige thing here.
While color may eventually come into play, kitty comfort is paramount when looking for a cat carrier. It “should feel secure and solidly made so that the cat can’t get out of it unintentionally,” notes Dr. Paula Fisher, veterinarian and owner of Queen West Animal Hospital in Toronto, Canada. She says it should have enough space so the cat can turn around — but not be too roomy. And when you arrive at the clinic, “it’s best to have a carrier that can be fully zipped open so that someone can reach in easily with both hands and gently pick the cat up out of the carrier” and place the cat back in after the appointment. This is less stress on everyone.
The cat backpack, which zips opens like a regular backpack, works far better than a carrier, which has to be carried one-handed (often switching hands frequently if you have a heavier feline). The weight of the cat can be distributed better — there’s a reason we carry schoolbooks in a backpack — and it’s a far less stressful way to get your animal from Point A to Point B. It also helps you make friends, because people who spot your cat through the window constantly stop you to ask about your conspicuous, animal-toting accessory. And some cat backpacks are even airline carry-on compliant, meaning you can carry your pet and still be able to bring magazines and chocolate bars onto the plane.
Still, the backpack is more difficult than a carrier to wrangle a cat into without them escaping — and just like a standard carrier, it serves as a warning sign that a trip outside is imminent. One way to tackle this is to develop “a positive association with the carrier by leaving it out at all times and offering yummy snacks and fun toys for your cat to find inside,” explains Savee Dalgo, a representative with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Other recommendations: Practicing getting your cat into the carrier at home and working up from short trips to longer ones.
And while the backpack is a cute accessory, most cats don’t actually enjoy going outside their known territory. Some cats — especially indoor-only kitties — “might be frightened looking out and seeing the world,” Fisher explains, so it’s important that they have options to either look out or crouch down. Both Fisher and Dalgo agree that carriers should always be well-ventilated.
For me, the window in the cat backpack was a draw — I figured Smitten could peer out at the world outside, gain curiosity about his surroundings, or perhaps become a famous cat naturalist. But it turns out he continues to hate the outdoors, as many cats do. But at least he has options — to look out or not — and he’s safe and secure en route.
Our reporter Fiona puts her cat Smitten in the cat backpack: